Brittle sedimentary strata focus a multimodal depth distribution of seismicity during hydraulic fracturing in the Sichuan Basin, Southwest China

Mengke An, Derek Elsworth, Fengshou Zhang, Rui Huang, Junlun Li, Zhengyu Xu, Zhen Zhong, Manchao He

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The number of background earthquakes (ML ≥ 0) in the southern Sichuan basin, southwest China, has increased thirtyfold as a result of hydraulic fracturing. Background events are originally deep (4–6 km) within the sedimentary section but build into a multimodal distribution both at depth and in the shallow stimulated reservoir (2–4 km) - representing a counterpoint to the usual triggering of seismicity on deep sub-reservoir basement faults. Surprisingly, the largest events (ML ≥ 3) evolve in the deep sedimentary strata (4–6 km) that are hydraulically isolated from the injection zone (2–4 km) by low permeability layers. We evaluate the friction-stability rheology of the strata within the full stratigraphic section to define the feasibility of nucleation within these shallow and deep strata. These show velocity-neutral to velocity-weakening behavior in the shallow reservoir transitioning to more strongly velocity-weakening with increase in both depth and temperature. Poroelastic stress calculations confirms that stress transfer, rather than transmitted fluid pressures, are capable of directly reactivating critically-stressed faults at depth, with fluid pressures the triggering source within the shallow reservoir.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number230332
StatePublished - May 10 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes

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